Light and Quirky Reading for the Dog Days

by Susan Withee, Adult Services Manager

The long hot days from late July through August have been known as the Dog Days of summer since ancient times, when the proximity of Sirius, the Dog Star, to the sun at that time of year was believed to cause of the hottest days of the year and all the evil thereof.  This year our Dog Days have set new records for high temperatures and duration, causing us grave discomfort and occasionally short tempers, so this August especially is a good time to pour a tall, cold drink and read something short, light, and quirky.  Try something from this list of books that take unexpected subjects and make them delightfully entertaining.

Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield.  For over 500 years the printed word has surrounded us, usually without our appreciating the artistry and graphic nuances of the typefaces we see.  With the arrival of the IBM Selectric typewriter and its revolutionary changeable typeballs in 1961, this began to change.  Suddenly, an ordinary individual was able to change the typeface on a document at will and creative sensibilities were piqued, although at the time our choices were limited to such sober typefaces as Courier or Prestige Elite.  Just over 20 years later, Steve Jobs marketed the first MacIntosh computer with a selection of typeface choices and suddenly “font” became a household word and the creation of new and more evocative typefaces exploded.  Now there are fonts for every emotion and message.  We all have our favorite classic fonts – Helvetica, Goudy Old Style, Albertus – and some fonts have acquired the stature of pop cultural icons.  There are even a few fonts – Papyrus, Brush Script, Comic Sans – that have caused the occasional online “font war” or have been reviled for misuse or overuse.  This amusing and enlightening book will introduce you to the social history of type design and the words we see all around us.

In Praise of Chickens: A Compendium of Wisdom Fair and Fowl by Pulitzer-prize nominee Jane S. Smith offers a sublime escape into poultry lore galore. A bright and sunny book of chicken history and trivia with excerpts and quotations from Aristotle to Twain, filled with antique illustrations and handsome portraits of chicken breeds, this small book is a summer delight.

In London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streets, Peter Ackroyd, prolific author, historian, and biographer, tells tales of the thousands of years of history buried beneath the streets of London.  Underground rivers, forgotten prisons, buried monasteries, ancient sewers and canals, Roman galleys, Anglo-Saxon graves, hideouts, tunnels and shelters, creatures of the underworld real and surreal – all appear in their own time and context in this absorbing and atmospheric book.

Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences by Kitty Burns Florey.  If you’re a Person of a Certain Age like me, you may remember diagramming sentences on the blackboard for your sixth or seventh grade teacher (requiescat in pace, Miss Johnston of MJHS).  Diagramming was introduced to American schools in 1877 as a standard technique for teaching grammar and it endured through most of the 20th Century before being largely abandoned.  Sentence diagramming was a way to visually depict the structure of sentences, a cross between puzzle-solving and graphic design.  It was an illuminating and effective way to learn grammar and an oddly satisfying mental exercise.  In this charming and humorous book, author Florey revisits her own memories of sentence diagramming and the challenges, elegance, and clarity offered by this forgotten skill.

Good to Go: A Guide to Preparing for the End of Life by Jo Myers. What?!  A book about dying that’s quirky and light?  Yes, and it’s fun to read as well.  Myers offers practical advice and a basic template for preparing for the end of life, your own or another’s, with acceptance and love.  With chapter headings like “Making an Ash of Yourself” and “Let’s Put the Fun Back in Funeral,” this book offers reassurance and encouragement with tenderness and humor.

Posted in: For Adults, Mercury Column

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